Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’. (Rev 21.1–4)
At the end of this most remarkable book comes this even more remarkable final vision—though in fact John stops using his characteristic ‘And I saw’, almost as if this is beyond experience and description. It can be read in isolation from the rest of the book—as I read it, through tears, at my father’s funeral. But it cannot be understood in isolation from what has gone before—in Revelation and in the whole canon of Scripture.
John does his theology through numbers, structures and lists as he has done before. This extraordinary (and, literally, impossible) giant cube-city is a new holy of holies—not one that is a single part of a single temple in a single city in a single country in the world, but encompassing the world itself of John’s day. This is the holy presence of God on a truly cosmic scale. The exact details of what John sees are impossible to make sense of—but their significance is to be found in his re-use of Old Testament imagery. This city is not just the counter-point to all failed human aspiration to transcendence and significance, but fulfils the specific hope of the people of God as they longed to see themselves returned home from exile and longed to see God’s name glorified once more.
The city that shines with the glory of God is (with its walls reaching to the skies) the ultimate place of security and peace. Its splendour and magnificence are without compare, dwarfing all human measures of extravagance. It is the home for the beautifully adorned bride of the lamb; it is the home of the priestly people of God; it is the place where the created order is restored to its original splendour.
But just as 1 Cor 13 was not written for weddings, so this passage was not written for funerals. John is offering this as the daily hope for his readers, then and now. We are God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16–17, Eph 2:21) which is the place of his dwelling; we have had the Spirit poured out on and in us (Romans 5:5); we are the priestly people of God, mediating between God and the world, and offering up to God those who come to know him through our testimony (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Romans 15:16). God’s call to you, today, this week, is to live out the future in the present—to live out the (partly realized) vision of the heavenly city so that others might be drawn to it.
(This a slightly longer version of the ‘Word for the Week’ published today by LICC, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. The previous instalments were ‘Who’s in Charge Around Here?’, ‘What on Earth is Going On?’ and ‘What on Earth is God up to?’. If you want to receive the next instalment of this series straight into your inbox, you can sign up to LICC’s mailing list here.)
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